Who Is Selling?
With the NBA regular season schedule set to drop this week, we have started to look forward a little here at Basketball Insiders, taking aim at potential free agents and the players that could be on the move as basketball ramps back up in the coming weeks.
With that in mind, how are some of the teams that are likely sellers this season:
The Orlando Magic’s new front office was disciplined this off-season, they did not spend lavishly or make a bold franchise changing trades, much to the chagrin of their fans. The mindset in Orlando was that last year was so chaotic that seeing first-hand what they really had was more valuable than reacting to what Orlando’s new executives saw from afar.
New leadership has leaned heavily on head coach Frank Vogel in understanding the potential of the roster, and it seems leadership is giving everyone a fairly clean slate to come in and earn their roles and their potential future.
The outcome of all of that is some players are going to play themselves into a future in Orlando and some (likely many) will not, making Orlando an absolute seller this season. The Magic are a team with real roster parts to pawn off as decisions get made on certain players, meaning they are the team to watch as the season unfolds.
Relatively speaking, the Magic have some value-priced contributors: Nikola Vucevic ($12.25 million), Evan Fournier ($17 million), Terrence Ross ($10.50 million) and D.J. Augustin ($7.25 million). None of them are likely franchise changing players, but all have proven to be productive.
The Magic also face some decisions with rookie scale guys like Aaron Gordon and Elfird Payton, who are each eligible for contract extensions this summer. Former fifth overall pick Mario Hezonja has never lived up to his draft hype and may or may not have a role this season.
The Magic have options if they want to explore them. The question becomes when will they pull the trigger on things, not if they pull the trigger.
The Phoenix Suns have re-committed to their front office, giving them the assurances that ownership will follow through with their longer-term vision. The Suns have, over the years, been collecting quite the treasure trove of young players and may actually have too much youth to really start to break out of the bottom tier in the West.
The Suns are one of the teams linked to Cavaliers’ guard Kyrie Irving, and while many in NBA circles peg them as the team with the assets to win over the Cavs, it does not appear that the Suns are willing to go all-in on Irving just yet. We’ll see as the clock ticks closer to training camp if either side budges on what they would do in a deal.
That does not mean the Suns won’t be active. The Suns explored trades around the NBA Draft, having been involved in talks to acquire Kevin Love from Cleveland. They were approached about being part of Houston’s four-team pitch for Carmelo Anthony.
With so many options, the idea of the Suns being sellers is not only real, it’s very likely, especially if the Suns can find a way to offload Tyson Chandler’s $13 million salary.
The Suns have been linked to rumors on guard Eric Bledsoe for months, and there is no question they have young guys to sweeten a deal, especially if it returns real talent.
That’s going to be the driver for the Suns – they want real talent in return. The Suns technically still have cap space if they opt to renounce the $12.059 million cap hold on Alex Len, so Phoenix has a lot of options if they wanted to explore them.
The Atlanta Hawks are in full rebuild mode. While no-one in Atlanta is going to admit to tanking, there is little doubt that the Hawks this year were constructed to hit bottom. It’s possible that Kent Bazemore can rebound to the form that landed him his four-year $70 million payday in 2016, but can a team anchored by Bazemore and guard Dennis Schroder really compete, even in the East?
The good news for the Hawks is they do not have a lot of long-term cap cash to shed beyond Bazemore and Schroder. The Miles Plumlee deal looks a little ugly in the context of a rebuild, but he was the price to dump off the $47 million remaining on Dwight Howard’s deal.
While the Hawks look like a team open for business, they don’t have much by way of assets others would covet. It’s possible one of the Hawks younger guys blossoms into something worth talking about in trade, but as things stand, the Hawks are a team to watch mainly because they are bottoming out, not so much because they have assets you could easily rationalize taking on in trade.
Like the Phoenix Suns, the Denver Nuggets have been amassing a pretty impressive cast of young players. They too have been linked to Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, and much like Phoenix, they do possess an interesting combination of older win-now players to combine with significant youth.
The Nuggets were the team that was able to poach Paul Millsap, with the idea that Denver was ready to be more than a middling western conference team. The Nuggets, though, become a team to watch as some teams decide to part with veteran players.
It’s hard to win in the NBA with an average roster age under 26 years old, and with Denver having so much youth—especially youth that plays big minutes—moving off some of it for proven players makes a lot of sense.
The Nuggets had explored the trade value of players like Kenneth Faried ($12.921 million), Wilson Chandler ($12.016 million), Emmanuel Mudiay ($3.381 million) and Darrell Arthur ($7.464 million).
The Nuggets have ending contracts on Wilson (Player Option), Arthur (Player Option), Will Barton (Unrestricted) and Jameer Nelson (Unrestricted).
Unlike a team like the Magic, who will inevitably make moves, the Nuggets don’t necessarily need to make changes. If, however, they are going to be the team they sold Millsap on, it’s hard to imagine the Nuggets not being aggressive, especially when real players hit the market.
Like the Hawks, the Bulls are tearing down and starting over. The Bulls are not in a bad way salary cap wise as Dwyane Wade’s $23.8 million salary comes off the books in July. The question becomes, is there a trade the Bulls can construct to get value out of Wade before the February 8th trade deadline?
The Bulls roster is littered with underachieving young guys who will get a real chance this season to show if they are what the Bulls hoped they’d be when they invested in them.
With this season being about the draft lottery and the future, the Bulls are a team to watch in terms of moving off veterans or young guys the Bulls lose faith in. They did something similar with Tony Snell, who blossomed in Milwaukee. The question is whether they do the same with forward Bobby Portis, second-year swingman Denzel Valentine or Cameron Payne.
The Bulls do have Robin Lopez, whose $13.78 million salary this year isn’t crazy, however, the $14.357 million owed next year does clog up the cap a little.
Like the Hawks, the Bulls don’t have much to sell, but with the bottom clearly in their sights for this season, they are a team to watch.
The LA Lakers are going to be sellers. As much as the team wants to talk about a playoff berth this season, there is a bigger picture plan that is going to require the Lakers to dump salary.
It is no big secret that the Lakers want to enter the 2018 offseason with two full max salary slots available to them. To do that, they are going to have to shed some of what’s likely to be $59.479 million in salary commitments.
The latest NBA projection pegs the 2018-19 salary cap at $103 million. Those numbers always fluctuate, but for planning purposes, $103 million cap means two max slots at 35% of the cap is going to cost $36.05 million each or $72.1 million. The quick math says the Lakers have to dump all but $30.9 million in cap dollars committed.
To achieve that, Luol Deng ($17.19 million), Jordan Clarkson ($11.562 million), Corey Brewer ($7.579 million) and perhaps Julius Randle ($4.149 million) are going to have to come off the books.
The good news is Brewer is a free agent in July, so his number falls off, much like the $22.642 million owed to Brook Lopez and the one-year $17.745 million owed to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Randle is a future free agent, so the Lakers could simply renounce him if they need his space and don’t have to make that decision before the deadline. However, Randle may be the piece the Lakers have to include to get anyone to consider the $54 million still owed to Deng.
As much as the Lakers want to talk about them being a potential playoff team this year, they almost have to sell off pieces in season, if they want any shot at the two max salary slots they would need to have to pursue the free agent targets (LeBron James and Paul George) they have been linked to.
All week, we have been looking at future free agents, players on the move and teams to watch as a primer for our upcoming NBA Season Previews that will drop the first week of September. Keep your eye out for new items dropping all week as we try and get you through the doldrums of the NBA’s dormant period.
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